Cassava plant (Manihot esculenta) with starchy tuberous roots. Native to the tropical lowlands of South America and Mesoamerica and the principal staple crop of early agricultural groups in northeastern South America. Although rich in carbohydrates, manioc is poor in protein and so a manioc‐based diet must include supplemental protein from fish or meat.
There are two varieties of manioc: sweet and bitter. Both contain poisonous prussic acid: in the sweet variety the acid is concentrated in the skin and can be removed by peeling the tuber. In the bitter form the prussic acid is more pervasive and the tuber must be peeled, grated, washed, and squeezed before being eaten. The manioc flour produced by this process is usually toasted on large ceramic griddles called budares. These are archaeologically recognizable as evidence for manioc cultivation. Sweet manioc can be used to make a sweet beer. Manioc cultivation may have begun in the lowland tropical forests of the Orinoco Basin of Venezuela by c.5000 bc before spreading to Colombia, Ecuador, and southwards into Amazonia, western Ecuador and eastern Peru. It had appeared in the Maya Lowlands by about 1000 bc. The earliest known manioc cultivation plots were found in June 2007 at Ceren, El Salvador, and are thought to date from c.ad 600.